Protesters march in Salt Lake City again as police chief denounces death of George Floyd

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Demonstrators protesting against police brutality gather at the Park building at the University of Utah on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Salt Lake City, as the initially set 8 p.m. weeklong curfew was removed.

Diane Bahati didn’t organize the protest at City Hall on Wednesday evening. No one really knew who did, but the people came, and she took over.

She led chants, telling the crowd of a few hundred people to say George Floyd’s name, and then she asked everyone to lie down. For eight minutes. Just like he did.

It’s just 60 seconds, eight times over, but when you’re living it, it feels like a long time to be facedown on the ground. “I know you’re uncomfortable,” Bahati said, but, she added, so was Floyd.

That’s why, she said, beckoning everyone to rise, the police who participated in his death should be charged with first-degree murder. The crowd erupted in cheers.

The City Hall crowd and a second crowd that gathered at the Utah Capitol moved throughout the city into the night on the same day that Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall lifted a controversial curfew order.

Police brutality “is a problem. And if we don’t do something, it’s only going to get worse,” Darryl Ifote said after the crowd walked to the Salt Lake City police headquarters from City Hall. “Let me tell you, a revolution is coming, whether you like it or not.”

Along with the two groups of protesters, police and the National Guard showed up in Utah’s capital for yet another day of rallying against racial inequality and police brutality.

It has been a week and a half since Floyd’s Memorial Day death. Bystanders recorded video of Floyd saying he couldn’t breathe, spurring protests around the nation. Some turned violent, including a demonstration in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

All four officers involved in Floyd’s death have been charged.

Wednesday’s City Hall protest started with a few hundred people marching from Washington Square to the Salt Lake City police headquarters while chanting “Peaceful protest” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

Police walked with them. Some addressed the crowd.

“We’re sad about the loss of George Floyd,” Police Chief Mike Brown said. “We denounce those actions of those officers. We stand for racial equality.”

Not all protesters were receptive to the chief’s words, with shouts cutting off his speech. “What is your police department going to do?” one person yelled.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation, which organized a protest earlier in the week, distributed flyers with demands that included defunding of the city police department and a reopening of cases involving people fatally shot by officers. The flyer also encouraged people not to kneel with police, claiming it was an effort to “garner media sympathy,” only for officers to “tear gas the crowd moments later.”

Still, most of the crowd joined Brown in kneeling.

From police headquarters, about 1,000 people marched through the evening heat for two-and-a-half miles to the University of Utah as bystanders watched from balconies and motorists offered supportive honks.

Officers assured the demonstrators that they could gather anywhere they wanted as long as they remained peaceful. Police also blocked intersections to ensure people could march through the city safely.

At the U., they gathered on the steps of the John R. Park Building, spilling out across the green space in front of it. They laid prone in remembrance of Floyd a second time. More speakers took the megaphone.

The group chanted again, and, at one point, the words “Black Lives Matter” echoed across the Presidents Circle.

A speaker said to bring that energy on Thursday. And Friday. And the day after that. And the day after that, because it’s working.

Demonstrators, after walking 6 miles in the sweltering heat, finished Wednesday at City Hall, vowing to come back again for more. Before then, they needed rest. “Where are we going?” a demonstrator called out. “Home!”

Meanwhile, hundreds had also gathered at the state Capitol and marched down State Street, where police also helped redirect traffic.

The Capitol campus remains closed after a state of emergency declaration by Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday. Moments before Wednesday’s protest began, Alliance for a Better Utah issued a statement calling on the governor to recall the National Guard presence in Salt Lake City.

“Utah should not respond to protests against police brutality by maintaining an unnecessary and increased law enforcement presence, or dictating to [protesters] how and when to raise their voices,” executive director Chase Thomas said in a news release.

The group also asked Herbert to recall the 200 National Guard troops he deployed to Washington, D.C.